-Aggam Walia (UG 22)
Recent developments on campus have led to a standoff between the administration and the Student Government and pose serious threats to Ashoka University’s commitment towards liberal values. The administration’s unilateral decisions concerning student life, their refusal to amend their mistakes and their attempts to define Ashokan culture (see Intra-University Events Policy) are worrying examples of the misuse of power of the administration. Ashoka University’s ‘liberal’ ethos is not limited to academics, they extend much further to practically every aspect of life at Ashoka. The administration’s betrayal of that ethos is a blatant disregard for the University’s founding principles.
A clause in the Intra-University Events Policy, states that the ‘goals and objectives of the event must align with Ashoka University’s vision’ is troublesome, to say the least. Firstly, the administration seems to be defining what the manifestation of the Ashokan vision in its culture should look like. This is discomforting to us as a student community because the administration has assumed the responsibility of defining Ashokan culture and further enforcing it upon the student body. A singular version of Ashokan culture contradicts the University’s aim to help students “think critically about issues from multiple perspectives”. Where multiplicity is cherished, it seems strange to promote one rigid idea of culture. Besides, why is the administration trying to define Ashokan culture when students are its primary stakeholders?
A culture is supposed to be dynamic and evolving. The administration’s efforts to make the students adhere to their version of Ashokan culture violates Ashoka’s liberal values. Furthermore, if the administration is entrusted with the responsibility of defining Ashokan culture, that responsibility could potentially be misused in the future to serve their own interests. Assigning this responsibility to a small group of people is a slippery slope because they will take advantage of it to define Ashokan culture in a way it suits them. Secondly, the administration should be representing Ashoka’s liberal values in its functionings. Their obvious disregard for consulting students on decisions that directly concern them and their tendency to go back on their own words explains why the administration is unfit to decide what constitutes an Ashokan culture. When they themselves do not espouse Ashokan values, how can they tell us what our culture should be?
This means that the onus to engage with Ashokan culture falls on the student body. Since Ashoka is a relatively new university, it doesn’t have an established culture thrust upon us to inherit. We, as students should take advantage of that and strive towards making Ashokan culture more student-driven. Since we are the largest interest group on campus, and it is for our education the university functions, we must be cognizant of the fact that it is our responsibility to mould and take forward the Ashokan culture. While we do that, we must fully engage with the University and its institutions to understand their purpose. We must discuss and deliberate over how to create a culture which caters to everyone’s interests and isn’t rigid or dogmatic. We must make our university experience student-led and -oriented. This doesn’t mean that we ignore the role the administration can play in enriching our college life. However, it needs to reorganise itself in a way so that it works alongside Ashokans in creating an environment ideal for both.
Interest among the students to take responsibility for Ashokan culture is steadily gaining, evident in the number of people who turned up for the Open Forum. The more we realize that the administration is unequipped to define Ashokan culture, through the impact it has in our everyday lives- from the clubs and societies to our residence situation, to the plight of our didi’s and bhaiyas- the greater will be the furor for change. Currently, we stand at an interesting vantage point that could define Ashoka for posterity. If students ignore the need to participate in redefining their terms with the administration, countless future batches will be affected. However, if we take charge and maintain the enthusiasm and solidarity displayed at the Open Forum, there is hope to reclaim a culture- ‘our’ culture from rapidly slipping away. We may be able to create an equilibrium that will benefit both the students and the administration.